I recently watched Awkwafina’s latest movie, The Farewell. Without giving away any spoilers that aren’t already found in the previews, it’s about a Chinese American woman who goes to visit her grandmother and extended family in China, and highlights the cultural differences she experiences by being both Chinese and American. The primary difference was made clear to me in a poignant scene between her character, and the character’s uncle. He explains that in the “West” they believe that one’s life is his own, but in the “East” one’s life is a part of a whole, a part of a family, and a part of a society. Which means that all life decisions must account for the whole, not just for one’s own self.
The movie is spoken almost entirely in Mandarin, with English subtitles, and it’s set mostly in a city I’m unfamiliar with; Changchun, China. Being a man who was born and raised in the “West”, I admit I have that fierce independent streak of the “Western” stereotype that the uncle describes. Translation: my real life is very different from the characters in this movie. Still, I easily connected to the story. This is because underneath all of these differences is the unifying element of Love. I was able to understand the message of Love in this movie without needing to read a single subtitle.
Yet, hours after the movie let out, I found myself still contemplating that point the uncle made about how the two cultures differ in the way they view one’s life. He made it sound like a dig against the “West” in his description of how we think about ourselves primarily. Further I found it fascinating that my knee-jerk response, as man from the States, was in jumping to the thought that my Western perspective was superior, being about freedom, and liberty. This Chinese family’s Eastern perspective seemed so suppressed. Individual emotions get policed in order for them to keep up a unified, amicable disposition for their matriarch. At a glance through my Western eyes, that came across as depressingly restrictive. But when I dropped my bias, and paid attention to their motive, I could see that it was so that the family could support each other in keeping her blissfully ignorant of a life threatening diagnosis. This still sounds repressive out of context, but in watching the story unfold on film, I understood the beauty of it. Because the driving force was Love. Love is the thing I understood from them, despite their cultural customs that seemed so foreign to me. Love truly is universal.
And Love is what I believe motivates my own Western culture to drive us to live our lives for ourselves. I’ve been taught that because I am so loved, I am free to do anything I want with my life, and pursue my own dreams.
When Love is absent however, this living for one’s self can be just as much of a nightmare as it seems to be if you’re suppressed in a family unit, with no individual dreams.
I live in the magical city of angels, Los Angeles, California. Here, individual dreams are bravely and boldly chased. The pursuit of happiness, whatever that individually means to each person, is more than simply encouraged, it’s practically a spiritual duty. Getting to live your life on your own terms can be so liberating. It can also be so lonely. You may be free from having family always looking over your shoulder, demanding that you run each decision by them first, but you also run the risk of not having anyone to lean on, or simply to check in on you, making sure that you’re okay. My city may be one of angels, but it’s also one with an epidemic of homelessness. These people have nowhere to go. Supposedly, they were free to make their own choices. But without any help, are they really making choices anymore?
This East/West – living for one’s family vs. living for one’s self – cultural idea, is really just two sides of the same coin. Love is needed either way. Without Love, being forced to give up personal will for the “good” of the family becomes a bondage hellscape. Without Love, having only yourself to choose for and rely on, turns into a lonesome hellscape.
Love is the way to bring any life into Heaven.
Love is what Awkwafina’s Chinese American character realized was the motive for her family’s unified choice, and it helped her to better understand her family’s customs. Their Love also helped me to understand, relate to their motives, and connect, all while watching in an American movie theater, reading English subtitles under Mandarin speaking. Love’s language is universal.
In the West, Love is what’s missing wherever there is loneliness, homelessness, and isolation. I know I’m speaking of incredibly complex issues, but I also know that at the most rudimentary examination, it’s clear that Love is the missing factor. A simple thought, but powerful. What the world needs now is Love, sweet Love.
Personally, I treasure my independence, and regard the liberty that I enjoy as the greatest gift I was born into. But I also know that independence can come with the dangerous consequence that being loved is not necessarily ensured. Having the liberty to live life for yourself, doesn’t also guarantee the given that you’ll have a unit of people to support you in your pursuits. Oh, but what a gift it is, if you are lucky enough to have people lovingly allow you to choose your life and support you all along the way.
That’s the gift of Love.
The great thing about giving the gift of Love, is it always gives back to you. You’ll never feel more Love, than when you give it.
Eastern culture, Western culture, families and individuals– I wish I could find a way to broadcast to the whole globe a simple yet fundamental idea; and that is to do all things with Love. I’m paraphrasing something that I read in the Bible, but I know that it’s a simple, universal concept, and I believe that it’s the key to everyone’s happiness, regardless of their cultural customs. Love is universal.
Love is the way.
There is much Love here for you. ~ Foxzm